The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday 30 September 2007

Bivvy Bag Adventure: A Scaredy-Cat's Tale

Firstly let me just say that this was not strictly a solo adventure. I was completely self sufficient (for the first time ever), however, being the complete girly lightweight scaredy cat that I am, and in that Husband would have sulked had he not been permitted to come along, I did have company.

Husband, who I forbade from using any of the kit that I was carrying and thus also had to be self sufficient, was far from lightweight with a tent. He pitched a small distance from where I was, and he was my contingency plan for if I found lying on a forest floor by myself to be just too scary a proposition.

This is roughly how it went:

5pm: Found somewhere to leave the car at Brocton and set out onto the Chase, via a plethora of deer tracks, though brambles that tore at the clothes, punctured the skin and put a pull in my Paramo Velez (yep, like Andy Howell, I decided that it was time to break out the Paramo – I was expecting Sunday morning to be cold).

5.30pm: Walked past the spot that I had in mind to camp and decided that it would do but wasn’t ideal. Husband had somewhere better in mind, but he couldn’t quite remember where it was. Wandered around for a while looking for a suitable place to secrete ourselves.

6.15pm: A small copse of young trees, in amongst the mature woodland, offered large spaces between trees and a smooth floor (provided that enough twigs were cleared). Accommodation was found.

6.30pm: Exploration found that we were in the middle of four paths. Cannock Chase has paths every fifty yards. Some are seldom used, some are well used, but you just cannot get very far away from a path.

6.55pm: A huge deer with huge antlers comes crashing through the mature woodland about 15 yards away. It stands and watches us for a while before stomping away. I start to get a bit worried about the effect of one of those hoofs inadvertently landing on my chest in the night…

7pm: Dusk is falling and there’s suddenly a hundred people around (well, maybe ten were seen over a 20 minute period), using all of the paths that surrounded us. We both tried to be inconspicuous, although one dog sniffed us out. Another man walked within yards of us, yet seemed not to notice us.

7.15pm: I was just brought up to be too honest. I don’t like to blatantly flout the law. Cannock Chase is not a place where one goes to camp, and I’m horrified at the thought of one of the passing people seeing us. Surely people will stop walking around once full darkness falls in ten minutes time?

7.30pm: even if there are people around, it’s now dark enough that they won’t see us. My bed is set out within seconds.

8pm: It’s really dark now, particularly under our canopy of trees, so I deem it safe to light the bushbuddy. Wood is easy enough to find – it litters the whole floor, but why did I not think it sensible to find tinder before it got dark?

8.20pm: Three tampons used and I’m not having much success in lighting the fire. Simultaneously I promise to practice my bushbuddy firelighting skills and rue not taking a sliver of firelighter with me!

8.30pm: The fire is alight. A cup of tea is in hand and all I have to do is concentrate on keeping the fire alive whilst I drink my tea so that I can reuse the Kettly Thing to make my food. Husband wanders over to point out that with the gas stove he’s already had a cup of tea and is now heating his food (yes, but he didn’t have a lovely warming fire and hands as black as night did he?).

9pm: In my bed absolutely scared out of my wits by the cracking twigs as deer move around. Then the owls start screeching. Then the deer start making that noise that deer make. Then another sound (foxes?) joins in. Oh My Goodness: am I going to wake in the night to find a fox staring into my face? Will tomorrow’s headline say ‘Local Woman Trampled to Death by Deer’?

9.05pm: How long do I have to stay in this bivvy bag before I declare that I gave it a reasonable chance and go and join Husband in the tent?

9.15pm: The voices of Bob and Andy on their TGO crossing calm me down remarkably.

9.30pm: It’s strange how in the dark the lower branches look as if they’re only just above me, and yet the trees seem endlessly tall. Neither was the case in reality.

10pm: Ooh, the sky must have cleared. I can see the moon beyond the canopy of trees.

12 midnight: Okay, enough podcasts. Earphone out of the ear and suddenly I can hear the noises again. I’m looking around every few minutes as if I’m going to suddenly see a whole gang of menacing deer coming to eat me.

1am: I dropped off for a short while! Periods of dozing are interspersed with listening to the increasingly quiet forest.

2am: I wake absolutely drenched with sweat! The sky is clear and the temperature is dropping, so I’m surprised to be so warm. I soon adjust things to get comfortable again.

2.30am: I awake with a start with something big very nearby. For the only time in the night I grope for the head-torch to let it know that I’m here. Eeek. Where’s the torch? I search for a good five minutes (really, where can it have gone?). Eventually find it wrapped up in my down jacket. The following day Husband commented at one point in the night he had heard me tossing and turning. I think what he heard was my frantic searching for my only source of light!

3am: Lying looking at the moon and the tree canopy when an owl flies very close over my head. I sit up as it flies over, but quickly lose sight of it. No longer scared of every sound, I drop off again.

4am: Again absolutely terrified at every noise and spend increasing lengths of time analysing what I think could possibly happen to me (trampled by deer, stared at by foxes is still the best answer I can come up with). Calm down and drop back off again. But, it’s 4am! That’s enough hours in the forest that even if I gave up at this point I would be happy that I could claim to have spent an entire night out in a bivvy bag. That’s an achievement.

5.12am: Oooh, that was a whole hour of uninterrupted sleep, and I’ve made it thought eight hours! People will be arriving in just over an hour to walk their dogs, so I figure that it is time to make a move. My thermometer tells me that it’s 7 degrees. That’s warmer than I expected.

5.30am: I text Husband (okay, I could have walked over to him, but I was reluctant to leave my warm bed) to ask if he’s ready to get up and practice some night-navigation skills. He responds in the affirmative.

6am: We’re packed away and trying to work out where we are. Perhaps it would have been wise to think about this in daylight yesterday?

6.10am: Navigating through this part of the Chase, in woodland, with hundreds of different paths, is not the easiest thing to do in the dark, but we do an admirable job of it.

6.30am: It’s light enough to see and we pass our first dog-walker as they drive into one of the car parks.

6.40am: Nearly back at the car, we stand a while watching a deer with two young (that’s the photo in the post below). She very kindly poses for us until we manage to get a passable photo.

7am: On the way home. As we pass over another part of the Chase there’s a stunning view of the sun not quite up in the glowing sky, with just a foot of mist hanging above the moorland in the foreground. With a decent camera, it would have made a fine photo.


Would I do it again? Most emphatically, I would not camp on Cannock Chase again. There are just too many paths, too many accessible car parks and thus too many people. Plus, there’s just too much life moving around for a person of a nervous disposition.

However, my night time analysis (I had plenty of time for thinking in amongst the brief periods of sleep and the more prolonged periods of being terrified) told me that I would have been happier in my bivvy bag on a hill side. The animal life may be just as abundant, but at least on a grassy hillside there wouldn’t be the snapping twig sound to alert me of their presence.

I’m never going to become a seriously ultra-light sort of a person, but I could be convinced to use the bivvy again, in a different location.

(phew - that was a bit long-winded. Did anyone get to the end?)


  1. Very entertaining account - though I think points should be deducted for texting your husband!
    Phil W

  2. Cannock Chase- that would be the place where we turned up with 50 bikers many years ago because the local MAG Rep had decided it was ok for us to camp out there post a huge biker's event. He was wrong needless to say!

    And now thejury is retiring to consider their decision.

  3. Well done you brave thing, you!

    In your midnight cogitations did you work out what your half of Wendy weighs and subtract the weight of the bivvy bag?

    That gives you the basis for the calculation for the weight saved versus the comfort and security of the tent!

    Nice post G!

  4. well done Gayle -results going up later on Friday